If the décor of Etsy’s headquarters in DUMBO is any indication of what shoppers can find on its extremely popular website, then those in search of an octopus arm sculpture are in luck.
Billed as the only marketplace for buying and selling handmade goods online, Etsy was founded in 2005 by Rob Kalin, Chris Maguire, and Haim Schoppick with the motto “Buy, Sell, and Live Handmade.” Adam Brown, Etsy’s public relations manager, explained why the site is preferable to eBay for a particular kind of consumer.
“I view eBay as more of like a garage sale or a flea market where you’re always trying to get the lowest price,” he said, seated in a conference room meant to look like the inside of a spaceship, I think. “It’s like looking in somebody’s junk drawer of stuff, whereas if you come to Etsy, you’re looking at things that are handmade.”
Etsy shoppers will also find craft supplies on the site, as well as vintage goods, which are defined as items older than 20 years. They depend on consumers to flag potentially illegitimate objects, and the customer support team then investigates the claim.
“We rely on those people in a way to help us maintain the integrity of the marketplace,” Brown explained. Etsy is nothing if not eclectic, a fact reinforced with a single glance around the office space, which was among the largest and most colorful I’ve seen in my travels around Digital DUMBO (aka NY Digital District).
Initially run out of an apartment in Ft. Greene, Etsy relocated first to an office at Flatbush and Myrtle Avenues, and then on to DUMBO. Staying in Brooklyn was important not only because so many employees live in the borough, but because it felt like home. Oh, and there are creative types nearby. Lots of them.
“We take a great deal of pride in it,” Brown said of Etsy’s DUMBO base. While it’s technically a digital company, Brown thinks Etsy has little in common with the myriad marketing/social media/advertising/graphic design agencies in the neighborhood.
“We just came here more because of the creative side of it than the digital side,” Brown stressed. “I think that wasn’t as important to us as the fact that there are actual artists studios.”
He conceded that being in DUMBO has helped with recruitment, because potential hires want to live in Brooklyn and are aware of the digital opportunities in DUMBO. Etsy employees receive one hundred dollars to spend on the site to decorate their workspace, and while most workers are technologically savvy, the typical Etsy seller need not be.
“Creating an Etsy account is about the same as setting up a Facebook account,” said Brown, because all the user needs to do is input copy and upload pictures. “Obviously the more you are willing to learn about stuff…the greater your chances for success.”
Available for purchase on Etsy are items ranging from earrings to blankets; dresses to pillows; miniature pumpkins to tutus for newborns, all handmade. And buyers can search for items by color, by seller location, by editor’s picks, or by something called “time machine,” that I was frankly too nervous to click on.
The site’s users are overwhelmingly female, and while Brown said they market to men, the ladies have been plenty kind to Etsy, which recently opened up a satellite office in Berlin as part of an effort to enhance its international presence.
“We’re hoping to do a lot more with the idea of social commerce, which means instead of searching for a scarf, there would be more tools to help you find a scarf that would have to do with other people,” Brown said.
Etsy gets 700 million page views a month, and the company is bigger than most in DUMBO, with around 100 employees in the office and a smattering of people around the country who work from home. It’s possible some of them know the derivation of the word “Etsy,” but Brown, for one, wasn’t telling.
“I kind of stopped answering [that question],” he said when I innocently asked what Etsy means. He instructed me to look it up (I did, and found only speculation), and then pick my favorite definition. So let’s go with this: Easy To Sell Yourself.
Which can be interpreted any number of ways.